Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120
TUESDAY 16 JULY 2002
JAY KCMG, MR
CMG, MR SIMON
GASS CMG AND
120. You may not be able to find £100 million?
(Sir Michael Jay) We may not be able to do so. As
I say, I think it is a stretching target. We are going to have
a really good stab at it but I cannot promise you that if I am
back before you in two years' time I will be saying we have achieved
it but we are going to have a go. We will not have a go if it
means selling properties which are a real asset to the taxpayer
Sir Patrick Cormack
121. I would like to pick up on one point, Sir
Michael. I was astounded when you said that by taking two rooms
in the French Embassy one week a month you could have effective
influence in a Francophone country like Niger, working out of
the French Embassy, which I am sure will be exceptionally helpful
to you. Really, what are you going to pick up from that? If we
should be represented in that country, surely we should have a
small, independent, free-standing embassy or, at the very least,
a premises which is ours to which a diplomat can go on a rather
more frequent basis.
(Sir Michael Jay) It is a question of resources. We
have to find the most effective way within limited resources to
establish a worldwide network. We have to look at imaginative
ways of doing this.
122. That is testing imagination more than somewhat.
If the thing is worth doing, surely it is worth doing properly?
It seems to me that that is an absurd situation.
(Sir Michael Jay) I do not agree. I think it is an
imaginative proposal and a good example of working closely with
the French in Africa, which is something which we want to do.
It will enable us, by having somebody there one week in every
month, to maintain contact with the authorities in the sense that
we cannot now. I think it is worth doing.
123. The French will do a wonderful job for
(Sir Michael Jay) No, they will have their own objectives
and we will have ours. I do think that sharing is important and
to try to work more closely with our European counterparts in
diplomatic effort overseas. I do think this is an imaginative
way of doing that.
124. May I ask you three quick questions on
the financial side before we come on to September 11th and the
implications of that. First of all, you refer to the changes in
the number of your department's objectives. Personally, I was
sorry to see the removal of objective 9, which is to improve the
operational effectiveness of the FCO. I thought there were some
very interesting targets that you were set in the spending review
of 1998. I understand that much of those targets is now in the
form of your service delivery agreement, which is available on
the FCO website and we have brought it down. The question I would
like to put is this: for future annual reports, would it not be
a good idea to put your service delivery agreement and target
under that in the annual report?
(Sir Michael Jay) Yes, I think it would. I may not
be quite answering the question. If we are talking about this
one, this was only agreed a few days ago.
125. But you have produced an analysis for us
of what was in the early Spending Review and I refer to objective
9. It says that targets for the management of the FCO for the
2000 Annual Review period are included in the FCO service delivery
agreement. That service delivery agreement is up on your website.
It seems to me to be a very important component of your annual
report. I am asking whether for future annual reports the service
delivery agreement and the targets under that should not be included
in the annual report?
(Sir Michael Jay) They should be and they will be.
126. The next question I wanted to put to you:
you produce, in your answer to our 14 supplementary questions,
the list of the posts overseas which were your top 20 spenders.
I was very surprised by the degree of variation between the various
years as to which posts appeared in the top 20. We have noted,
for example, that as far as the 2001-02 financial year is concerned,
Lima and Columbo appear in the top 20 spending posts. I would
be grateful if you could explain to the Committee why there is
such a degree of velocity as to which are the top 20 spenders
because I, for one, am somewhat mystified by that.
(Mr Gass) We are now referring to specific posts and
the sorts of thing which will change substantially the amount
we spend on the post every year will include the amount of programme
spending that we deliver in that country. For example, if we have
a major drugs training programme in Colombo, which may be the
reason why our spending increased in one particular year, that
will score in one year and it may not help score in the next year
if we have then completed that programme. That is one of the elements
which will mean there is quite a sharp difference frpm year to
year in some posts.
127. Can you shed any light on why Lima, for
example, has come up in the top 20?
(Mr Gass) I cannot immediately, Mr Chairman.
(Sir Michael Jay) We will send you a note about that.
128. The last question I wanted to put to you
is: Sir Michael, as you know, the Committee over quite a considerable
period, including in the last Parliament, has been encouraging
your department not to hide its light under a bushel as far as
the value which the taxpayer gets for his money which he is expending
on your department. We have been pressing you to set out, as best
you can, what are the cost-benefit relationships for the expenditure
going through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I simply would
like to register that I, and I am sure other members of the Committee,
are very pleased that in various points in the report you have
set out, under the various chapter heads, illustrations of the
various cost benefit results that you are achieving. I hope you
would confirm to the Committee that you will continue to pay close
attention to this and be similarly ready to be setting out your
stall in terms of what you are achieving for the taxpayer.
(Sir Michael Jay) The answer to those questions is
"yes", Mr Chairman. May I say that we have found it
extremely helpful to have been asked by you to do this because
it has focussed our attention more on the cost-benefit analysis
activities. I think we do need to continue to look at ways in
which we can measure our output and demonstrate the value which
we do add. We have found that in some cases this was easier than
others. In cases like, for example, the consular activities and
new passports system and so on, there was a fairly clear and I
think demonstrable cost-benefit analysis. For some others, it
was a little bit more experimental in tyring to draw the costs
and benefits, but we will continue to do that. I am glad that
has helped the Committee. We will certainly continue with that
for next year.
129. Can you also pay attention to the other
side of that coin, which I think the Committee and therefore the
wider public should be aware of, namely, that if the Department
feels that tasks are being imposed on it which are resulting in
substantial expenditure, for which only very limited benefit is
being derived, I hope you would feel it is appropriate to draw
that to the attention of the Committee in future annual reports.
(Sir Michael Jay) Thank you. If I may, on that point,
going back to a point we were making earlier on, one of the purposes
of our discussion with other government department here in London
is to ensure that we have a proper sense of their priorities and
the things which are really important for them, so that our posts
can concentrate on the things which are our priorities and the
priorities of other government departments, and that we encourage
other government departments too to prioritise and only ask our
posts to do the things which really do have value added.
Chairman: I want now to turn to the impact on
your Department's activities since 11 September.
Sir Patrick Cormack
130. Sir Michael, would you like to say a little
to the Committee about how those dreadful events have affected
your day-to-day operations and your resource requirements and
even perhaps your longer-term aims?
(Sir Michael Jay) When we look back, there was an
immediate response on our operations, both at home and abroad.
At home, we had to set up consular emergency units straight away,
and we did the same in New York. I think that showed that we were
able to operate swiftly and effectively, faced with a completely
unpredictable event. I think our response there was positive.
Developing that theme a little bit, the one lesson we have learnt
is that our immediate response was very positive; we were also
one of the first countries to set up an embassy in Kabul. Looking
back on it, we would like to have been able to set that up a little
bit more quickly and a bit more fully than we did. One of the
lesson there again goes back to the flexibility of the diplomatic
response. Can we find ways in which we can have almost a rapid-reaction
embassy, rather as the Department for International Development
respond very quickly to disasters abroad? Can we work out ways
in which we have the communications, the people and the linguists
ready at very short notice to deploy a diplomatic presence overseas
when faced with a situation like Afghanistan? We are working on
that at the moment.
131. Are you reasonably happy with the progress
you are making?
(Sir Michael Jay) We are happy with the progress we
are making but we are not there yet.
132. I would just say, in parentheses, that
the Committee did go to New York and we were very impressed by
what Sir Thomas Harris and his colleagues have done there. We
have put that on record. So you are not there yet as far as rapid
reaction is concerned. When will you be there?
(Sir Michael Jay) I will ask Mr Collecott, who is
leading the team that is working on that, to say where we have
reached. It is an important part of our activities.
(Mr Collecott) It is a very important part. There
are various more imaginative ways in which we can look at providing
the kit and the physical presence that we need. One of the constraints
we found in Kabul was actually the question of premises. Our premises
were rather small; they had deteriorated over the time. Frankly,
we had colleagues of ours living and working in extremely cramped
circumstances with very serious security risks surrounding them
for much longer than we would have liked. Obviously the physical
nature of the compound there imposed restraints on the degree,
the timing and the speed with which we could put in place the
communications and other equipment that we would want to operate
normally. As I say, we are actively looking at possibilities such
as: is it possible for us in a situation like that to put on the
ground pretty rapidly the equivalent of 20 ft. containers which
are fitted out as offices and which would provide some secure,
rather quick alternative to the long process of finding new buildings
and making them secure. Clearly, on the personnel side, we are
also - and this is where some of the new systems which we are
going to be introducing next year help dramatically - refining
our ability to pinpoint those people who have the right skills,
background and language and to be able to move them very rapidly.
We did it post 11 September, but I think we would all agree that
was somewhat more ad hoc than we would wish.
133. May I ask a couple of matters on that?
First of all, do you have a sufficiently flexible contingency
fund to develop these things? Secondly, do you have the equivalent
of a reserve list so that you can call upon perhaps recently retired
diplomats to come and help out in these situations if they have
a special expertise?
(Mr Collecott) We have both of those in part, but
I think both of those we can develop a little bit more. One of
the challenges which we had immediately post 11 September, for
this and other reasons, was actually to re-prioritise the resources
we have because we did not have an immediate pot to which we could
go to fund this new activity. We had to take rather hard decisions
on what was going to be lower priority and not be done. In the
future, we are intending to have some kind of unallocated provision,
which should be used for real emergencies rather than just being
drawn down willy-nilly. Secondly, yes, we do have lists through
an organisation which we fund within the Foreign Office of retired
people who are willing to come back. We can draw on them. We have
tended to draw on their expertise to fill requirements in London,
occasionally to send people abroad, but that is one of the resources
on which we can draw to be more flexible in our department.
134. Could you develop this? You will build
up the figures.
(Sir Michael Jay) Yes.
135. I do not want to be alarmist, but something
like 11 September could happen again. If it did, would you be
better prepared, in the light of 11 September, to cope with it?
(Sir Michael Jay) I think we would, yes, in two ways:
firstly, I think we would be better able to react quickly overseas
in strengthening our operations where we need to; we have also
learnt lessons from the operations of the emergency unit back
in London on how it can best be staffed, how it can best operate.
Indeed, we put some of those lessons into practice when we opened
the emergency unit again during the time of recent high tension
between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, which suggested that
we had learnt some of those lessons. I would not want for a moment
to be complacent about this because these matters put any organisation
under huge strain, but I think we will be better able than we
136. What about the Counter-Terrorism Committee
operating out of the UN: do you think that has adequate resources?
How do you assess the success of the so-called Islamic Media Unit?
(Sir Michael Jay) On the first point, if I may say
so, I think that Sir Jeremy Greenstock has done an extremely good
job as Chairman of that. It is a tribute to him and his diplomacy
that he was chosen to do that job. That Committee's work is acting
as a very good discipline on Member States around the world and
I am sure they do come up with their anti-terrorism or counter-terrorism
plan. On the second point, I think one of the other main lessons
that we have learnt from 11 September is that the nature of diplomacy
is less state-to-state or government-to-government and as much
public opinion-to-public opinion. What the Islamic Media Unit
has shown is that it is possible to have an effect on public opinion
overseas and that that is crucially important. I think this will
become a lasting part of our machinery. We realised quite early
on that we needed to get people speaking fluent Arabic and in
the press in the Muslim and Arab world just to put across our
point of view.
137. Have you enough Arabists?
(Sir Michael Jay) We have not yet had difficulty in
finding people either from within the Service or from outside
to meet the demands that we are putting on them.
138. Are you specifically seeking to recruit
from the universities?
(Sir Michael Jay) The Islamic Unit is establishing
contacts with the key people in universities so that we have a
pool of people to draw on. It will not necessarily be a question
of recruiting them to the Foreign Office but making the best use
of the resources that are there to promote British interests.
139. Again, do you have enough resources to
(Sir Michael Jay) I hope so. It is a very high priority.
Going back to the earlier question about efficiency savings and
the need to be looking for the lower priorities to release funds
for the higher priorities, I think that this is, without any question
at all, one of the higher priorities and will remain so.